Alberta declared a state of emergency as it took sad stock Wednesday of the devastation from wildfires that torched entire neighbourhoods and forced more than 80,000 to flee the oilsands city of Fort McMurray. Fire crews, backed by helicopters and air tankers, braced for renewed incursions from waves of flame menacing the city.
“The situation in Fort McMurray is not stable. It is unstable,” Scott Long of Alberta Emergency Management told reporters in a Wednesday afternoon briefing.
“The downtown core is being held through some Herculean efforts of the structural firefighters in the area.”
Premier Rachel Notley said about 1,600 buildings, most of them homes, were hit by the fire that leapt over crews late Tuesday afternoon and raced into the city.
“There’s been fairly significant destruction of residences,” said Notley.
She and her officials admitted the outlook remained grim as the fire, which obliterated neighbourhoods to the south and west, moved north.
‘The new normal’ for wildfires
According to Natural Resources Canada, the mean number of wildfires each year in Canada for the last 25 years was about 8,300. An average of about 2.3 million hectares burns each year, but recent years have seen more destructive fires in terms of area covered.
In 2014, for example, more than 5,100 forest fires burned over 4.5 million hectares. Last year, nearly four million hectares had been scorched by around 6,700 fires by early September, and fire season continues from late April to late September, depending on the region.
“Climate change models and research all point to the idea that fire season is going to be longer in the coming years, and the fires will be more severe,” says David Andison, adjunct professor with the faculty of forestry at UBC.
“It will really just be the new normal.”
Many agencies have started taking an approach that focuses only on wildfires that could threaten urban centres or important infrastructure. Only three per cent of wildfires in the boreal forest grow to be more than 200 hectares in size, but that three per cent accounts for 97 per cent of the area burned each year, according to Natural Resources Canada.
It’s not just a resources problem but rather a new approach to fire management. Wildfires are a key part of the ecological cycle and provide an opportunity for new growth and the evolution of ecosystems. Instead of trying to suppress every fire, an assessment is made, and if it can burn without any damage to populated areas, it will be left alone.
“As tragic as this is in terms of property damage and costs and stress, fire is still a natural process in the forest and the outcome of this will be a young, vibrant forest ecosystem,” says Andison.
Employment Insurance claims streamlined to Fort McMurray
The federal government has simplified and accelerated the process of claiming EI for Fort McMurray workers who, having lost their jobs.
The workers can complete a form – online or in person – without having to provide record of employment to receive their benefits. A special reference code – 4812 01 2016 030 516 – has been created to accelerate the processing of applications for these workers.
The Service Canada Centre in Fort McMurray is currently closed, but workers can turn to the centers of the region that are further south is in St. Paul, Slave Lake and Edmonton four centers.
Workers who have lost their jobs are invited to register for direct deposit with their application to facilitate the distribution of benefits. Postal delivery could be interrupted to the affected area and the disappearance of some houses complicate delivery.
Alberta has declared a provincial state of emergency Wednesday to face the largest evacuation due to a forest fire in the history of the province. Warm temperatures and winds created difficult conditions. The fire increased in intensity and, at last count, stretching over 100 square kilometers.
The fire destroyed 1,600 houses in the town of Fort McMurray and forced the evacuation of 80,000 residents.
Here’s how people are helping out:
• A reception centre for evacuees has been set up at the Northlands Expo Centre. There is space for up to 1,300 people and Edmonton’s Emergency Support Response Team, Red Cross and medical staff are at hand to help evacuees, who will have access to cots, washrooms, food and beverages. The Edmonton Humane Society is also at hand to help evacuees with pets.
• The Canadian Red Cross is taking donations from individuals and organizations here. People can call the Red Cross at 1-888-350-6070 for family reunification.
• The Edmonton Emergency Relief Services is coordinating donation efforts in Edmonton and is specifically requesting donations of diapers, baby wipes, new toiletries such as soap and shampoo and new socks an underwear. Items should not be taken to the Expo Centre, but to the Emergency Relief Services warehouse, downtown at 10255 104th St. The not-for-profit is also looking for volunteers. To register, call 780-428-4422.
• Any Fort McMurray residents in Edmonton with a flat tire or tire issues can head to the Fountain Tire at 8550 Yellowhead Trail for free repairs.
• The Bank of Montreal has instituted a relief program to assist customers affected by the wildfire, which includes various options on deferral of personal loan payments and personal mortgage loan principal and interest payments.
• Edmonton’s Food Bank is providing food resources to evacuees. Donations of food may be left at any major grocery store or fire hall. Monetary donations to the Fort McMurray Dire Evacuee support can be made online here.
• The supporters of Alberta Animal Rescues has set up a list of rescues and kennels who have stepped up to help those with pets affected by the fire in Fort McMurray. Evacuees who had to leave a pet behind in Fort McMurray can call the SPCA at 780-743-700.
• An open-source Facebook page has been set up to help evacuees with information and resources. People have been using the page to assist evacuees with any items and shelter they might be able to offer.
• Civeo is making spaces available at its lodges both north and south of Fort McMurray. North of Fort McMurray, Civeo has rooms available at its largest facility, Wapasu Lodge and recommends that people consider this Civeo location first. If the need dictates, Civeo is ready to open its Henday Lodge. South of Fort McMurray, Civeo has limited rooms available at two of its lodges at Marianna and Conklin. Last night, Civeo accommodated approximately 3,000 Fort McMurray residents including children and pets at its facilities providing rooms, bottled water and food. Civeo’s Athabasca, Beaver River and McClelland Lake lodges are full. The list of lodge locations:http://civeo.com/lodges-villages/canada/
• Evacuated families who have children with medical needs can contact Ronald McDonald House Northern Alberta at 780-439-5437 for help arranging housing and care.
• Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton is offering respite care and a supervised safe play space at the Maier Centre at 17451 103 Ave. for autistic children and children with other special needs while parents plan their next steps. Call 780-495-9235 and ask for Kelsey Penney.
• The Guru Nanak Sikh Society has compiled a list of more than two dozen spare bedrooms, basement suites and motel rooms available free of charge for Fort McMurray evacuees offered by members of their congregation. Those with room available or evacuees in need of a place to stay in Edmonton can call Arundeep Sandhu at 780-935-2786.
• Class A Property Group has warehouse space available in the Harvest Industrial Park in Leduc. Fort McMurray evacuees can contact the Lizotte and Associates Real Estate office at 780-488-0888 or contact Casey Bond on her cell phone at 780-221-6418 for free storage.
• Kinnikinnick Fresh at 10940 120 St. is offering $50 vouchers for gluten-free food to Fort McMurray evacuees with celiac disease.
• An Edmontonian has created a website where locals can register space available to house Fort McMurray evacuees and where evacuees needing a place to stay can register for help. Go towww.ymmfire.ca
• Champion Pet Foods at 11403 186 St. is offering free cat and dog food for Fort McMurray evacuees.
• The Edmonton Economic Development Corporation is tweeting information about Edmonton hotels offering a compassion rate for Fort McMurray evacuees. Follow their tweets @EEDC
• The U-Haul Company of Northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Edmonton are all offering 30 days of free self-storage and U-Box container use for people evacuated by wildfires who need to store personal items. Contact a local U-Haul branch for information.
• StorageMart is donating a free month of storage in Edmonton for evacuees. Call 877-786-7243 for information.
• The Pint Public House Edmonton locations at 10125 109 St. and 8032 104 St. are offering a free meal for evacuees. Bring proof of address to either location between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. or between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. this week for a free meal off their menu.
• Earls Kitchen + Bar is offering a free sandwich and drink at their Edmonton locations for evacuees who bring a government issued ID with a current Fort McMurray address.
• The Al Rashid Mosque is opening their doors for evacuees in need of a place to stay at 13070 113 St. Please contact them at 780-451-6694 for information.
• Boyle Street Community Services at 10116 105 Avenue and The Mustard Seed Society, with locations at 10635 96 St. and 10568 114 St., is offering counselling, clothing and hot meals to fire evacuees.
• Mint Health + Drugs locations across Alberta are offering free emergency medicine for evacuees who left their medication behind. There are eight locations, including one in Edmonton at 10611 101 St. Call 780-757-1030 or your local location for information.
• Inclusion Alberta is offering help for persons with developmental disabilities displaced by fires in northern Alberta offering support and accommodation. Contact them by calling 780-451-3055 ext. 400.